Discovering the starting point

Discovering the starting point.

In order to assess whether this dream of beating last year’s age group winning time was achievable I had to find out where my performance currently lies.  To find this out I have devised three field based tests for each of the three disciplines which I will use not only to assess my starting fitness and form, but track my progress throughout the year and predict future performance.

Before I explain each test it is important to consider two factors that make a good test.  Firstly it must test something relevant; it’s no good testing how far you can throw a ball if you play football as an outfield player.  Secondly a test should be repeatable, that is to say that if you performed the test twice with the same conditions it would produce the same results.

With this in mind we shall look at the first discipline, swimming.  For the East Coast Triathlon the swim is 250m in the pool. So to test my current condition for this test I have simply swam 250m in my gym’s pool.  This is a very good test as it firstly measures the exact performance I will perform, and secondly (baring the pool not being too busy) allows the conditions to remain the same each time I test myself.

For the next discipline, cycling, I test myself using a 12km out and back course, with a dead turn around, along a 6km road with some short but steep climbing in both directions.  Although this course is both shorter (-4km) and hillier than the course for the East Coast Triathlon, the hilliness gives the change of speed that the 6 dead turns of the triathlon course produce.  I also like this route as it has a sign post at the start/finish line that I use to time myself from, as well as being a relatively traffic free road.  However the road is open to the elements, allowing for factors such as wind to have an effect on performance.  Because of its shorter nature I subtract 2kmh from my average speed to produce a prediction of performance in the triathlon.

For the final discipline, the run, I use another out and back route, this time a flat 5km, using my average speed to predict my performance in the triathlon.  I decided to use 5km (2km further than triathlon’s run) to try to simulate some fatigue effect that would appear during the triathlon run, whilst still having a test that stressed the same energy systems as a 3km run.

So with tests planned I set out a week before my training was due to begin and produced these results:

Swim: 5minutes 43 seconds

Cycle: 23 minutes 9 seconds

Run: 24minutes 54 seconds

Using these results I then could then predict my current times for each discipline during the triathlon.

Swim: 5minutes 43 seconds

Cycle: 33minutes 20 seconds (28.8kmh)

Run:  14minutes 56.4 seconds (12.05kmh)

And compare these to the results of last year’s winning time for my age group.

Swim:        5minutes 19.5 seconds

Cycle:        33minute 15.6 seconds (28.86kmh)

Run:          11minutes 42.3 seconds (15.4kmh)

Comparing the two sets of data I decided that I was not very far away from being able to achieve a similar performance to last year’s age group.

Setting objectives to achieve my goals.

After comparing the two sets of data my competitive side kicked in and decided that I could beat this time, and if I did I could win my age group in my first triathlon.  However it is a dangerous idea to set outcome goals as in truth they are far from achievable for a number of reasons.  Firstly winning a race of any sort isn’t just dependent on me, one of the Brownlee brothers could turn up for fun (unlikely……but if it did happen there’s no way I could win). Secondly the reverse may be the case, I could get lucky and be the only man in my age group to turn up, meaning I could take all day and still win and not actually achieve something.  Finally a goal of winning something is incredibly black and white, that is to say there is only success or failure regardless of performance.

Because of these factors it is much better to set yourself performance goals.  This is because regardless of the outcome achieving your goal is a success, and if that wins you a race that is just a bonus.  Because of this I decided to make my goal ‘To complete the triathlon in 53 minutes’, which would beat last years’ time by 4 seconds.  So how am a going to achieve this?

Firstly it is important to find my biggest limiting factors to my current performance, as these will be where the most performance can be gained.  For me my biggest limiting factor is my run, as being a cyclist for three years has meant I have run precisely nowhere in that time.  So most of my training will be focused on improving my running (but more on how this is to be done later) by setting myself the objective of running my 5km test route in a time of 22minutes and 13 seconds (an average speed of 13.5kmh) during the week of 25th March 2012.  This time would give a projected time for the run during the triathlon of 13 minutes and 20 seconds.

My next biggest limiter is my swim, as although I was a very good swimmer as a child I have not swam consistently for many years.  So for my swimming I have set myself the objective of swimming 250m in the pool in a 5minutes during the same week as my running test.

So with two predicted times for two my two weakest disciplines I can start to build a predicted overall performance.  To do this I added the two times together plus an additional two minutes for transitions, as I feel that I can get my transitions down to this time with some practice.  Adding these times up leaves me with a target of 33minutes and 40 seconds to complete the bike stage at an average speed of 28.51kmh in order to post a time of exactly 53 minutes.  This leaves me with the objective of riding my 12km cycle test route at an average speed of 30.51kmh, doing a time of 23minutes 35 seconds during the week beginning March 25th.  Many of you will have noticed that this time is slower than my pre training test, which may sound like a strange idea.  However as I have made the two main focuses of my training the swim and the run, my cycling training is there to supplement the other two.  Therefore I have set an objective that aims to keep the status quo on the bike as I know from previous experience that there will be a slight improvement in my cycling performance following any kind of endurance training.  This plan allows me to have a slight cushion on the bike when it comes to the triathlon as I know I can save myself for the run.

An overview of my training plan between now and the triathlon.

Some of you may have noted that the date for my targets to be achieved is 4 weeks before the triathlon is actually to take place and may think that this is a little odd.  There is however method behind this, but in order to explain this I must first talk you through the process of the training year.

In order for an athlete to achieve their peak at the perfect time it is important to meticulously plan the training year to ensure that the right training is being done at the right time.  This process is called periodization, and involves splitting the year up into macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles.   A macrocycle is the largest of the periods, and in general refers to  training period for an event, in my case it is the 160 days leading up to the triathlon. Mesocycles are smaller amount of time between weeks which the macrocycle splits into, which makes it easier to plan for the changes in training depending on time of year.  Joe Friel best describes this by splitting the training period (one macrocycle) into 5 distinct mesocycles.  These are the Base mesocycle (6-12 weeks), the Build mesocycle (6-8) weeks, the Peak mesocycle (2 weeks), the Race mesocycle (1-3 weeks) and the Transition period.  The Transition period is the time spent between Macrocycles, where training is not necessarily a priority.

The Base mesocycle is the initial period of training, in my case it is the first 12 weeks of my Macrocycle for this triathlon. The purpose of the Base mesocycle in an endurance sport training program is to build a good aerobic fitness base as well as develop neuromuscular performance to improve efficiency.  During the Base mesocycle training focuses on high volume (lots of time spent training) and low intensity (working at a relatively easy effort) in order to improve the bodies aerobic capacity at both a cellular and anatomical level.  Training also focuses on technique work for each of the disciplines.

Again like the macrocycle the mesocycle can be broken down into smaller parts, called microcycles, to further specify a period of training.  In the Base mesocycle I have split the 12 weeks into three four week microcycles, consisting of three weeks of training and one rest/testing week.  In each microcycle the total numbers of hours increases from the last in order to overload my body and improve performance. The rest weeks are designed for two purposes, firstly to enable the body to recover from the stresses of three weeks training, and secondly to carry out the three performance tests described earlier in order to track progress.

After I have built a solid endurance base I will move into the Build mesocycle (8 weeks).  This mesocycle is split into two microcycles, again 3 weeks of training with a rest/testing week. It is in the final testing week of the mesocycle that my performance objectives are to be tested.  The purpose of the Build mesocycle is to target the limiting factors to your performance in order to improve them.  During these 8 weeks I will be focusing on improving my running and my swimming.

The reason that I shall test my objectives at the end of the Build mesocycle is that this is the end of the majority of my training, after this point I begin to taper (reducing training volume as you approach competition).  By testing myself here I should not have peaked, meaning that achieving the objectives at this point should mean that I am almost certainly guaranteed to achieve them in the race.

Following the Build mesocycle there is the Peak mesocycle, two weeks of training with reduced volume but high intensity training.  The purpose of this mesocycle is to work on my weakest limiter, running, and my strongest factor to performance, cycling.  As well as fine tuning my swimming to prepare me for the race.

The final mesocycle is the Race mesocycle, the final 7 days leading into the triathlon.  The aim of this week is to balance enough high intensity training with enough rest to ensure that you are fresh for your race, but do not lose any top end speed.  During this period it is best to target your strongest factor, which for me is cycling.

And then finally, on April 21st 2012 I shall be ready to compete in my first triathlon and attempt my goal of completing the course in 53minutes or better.

Thanks for sticking with this post, it was a long one.

Next time…..

  • I will have had my nutritional assessment for the SiS Winter Academy and I shall be reporting back on how that went.
  • It will also be the end of the Base 1 microcycle so I will be reporting on my first block of training.
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